Wag the dog.

These unearthly things are greater horse tail spore bodies. They erupt out of the earth and look oddly like lawyers’ wig ink cap mushrooms.

They are in fact the last hurrah of a plant kingdom that once dominated the earth and towered over dinosaurs: tumbling down in their multitudes to form the Carboniferous geological layer that gave us coal and oil.

Now they are just one plant amongst many. A relative is an annoyingly tenacious weed in my garden and the silica in horse tail leaves made them handy pot scourers and wood polishers in other times. The greater horse tail likes damper places in woods and can indicate a spring line underground.

The spore bodies have no chlorophyll and die as soon as their ancient spores are shed. The leaves of odd whorls that inspired the concept of fractals come later and they can form great stands of plants.

They are oddities that momentarily surprise us before sinking back into the herbage

Maybe our reliance on the fossil fuels they left behind so long ago will seem equally surprising and unimportant one day. We can hope!

Simon Armitage’s poem on the funeral of Prince Phillip and his generation.

The Patriarchs – An Elegy

The weather in the window this morning
is snow, unseasonal singular flakes,
a slow winter’s final shiver. On such an occasion
to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up
for a whole generation – that crew whose survival
was always the stuff of minor miracle,
who came ashore in orange-crate coracles,
fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea
with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.

Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans
across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets,
regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were
was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business.
Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became
both inner core and outer case
in a family heirloom of nesting dolls.
Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand
in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.

They were sons of a zodiac out of sync
with the solar year, but turned their minds
to the day’s big science and heavy questions.
To study their hands at rest was to picture maps
showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes
of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions.
Last of the great avuncular magicians
they kept their best tricks for the grand finale:
Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.

The major oaks in the wood start tuning up
and skies to come will deliver their tributes.
But for now, a cold April’s closing moments
parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon
snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.

Singapore Shows What Serious Urban Farming Looks Like

I found this article in the reasons to be cheerful site, which is a great place to lift the global spirits .

Covid has made many of us realise how vulnerable cities are and how we cannot take food/ pharmaceutical / or even family links for granted any more.

I am deeply impressed by how hard some people are working to make urban gardens produce food and beauty for us all.

In a city-state that imports 90% of its food, rooftop gardens are a matter of national food security.
— Read on reasonstobecheerful.world/singapore-urban-farms-food-security

Pixie’s view of my Chili attempt to save the world!

So Much.

In spring there is so much to notice, so much to hear, smell and to see that writing about it all seems an unprofitable use of this wonderful time of year; but somehow I still like to try to capture a little of it in words, so here I go.

The woods are full of fighting wrens. Tiny balls of feathers explode out of the undergrowth and cascade down in furious brawls over mates and territories. These secretive birds are suddenly everywhere and they don’t care if you notice them in their brief spring bruiserish personas . They will soon melt back into the leaves to raise their tiny brood of chicks in quiet and anonymous safety.

It has been a good year for cowslips and for the shiny yellow stars of lesser celandine. The celandine are slowly colonising the corners of my garden and the late spring has allowed their flowers to shine for weeks . It’s country name is pilewort as it is good for curing piles apparently!

The tree leaves are appearing like a green smoke and wild cherry blossom in the woods is thin and unexpected like a lace curtain hastily pulled over an indiscreet window. Before the leaves join into the screen of summer some couples are still visible. I noticed these two trees growing into each other a few days ago. The smooth bark I think belongs to a hornbeam and the fissured bark is a robinia . The bark is melding and there is something ludicrously romantic about their unlikely and supportive intimacy.

The blackcaps have returned to the garden and so have the redstarts with their electric crackle of song. One of our nest boxes that has been spurned for years due to our ( and many, many others) cats may finally be home to some blue tits and the kestrels are back to nest in the barn opposite. My husband heard a cuckoo yesterday morning and in the evening I saw the first swallows racing over the garden and all the bright, bright unfurling leaves.

Sunshine : gold and black!

This bright daffodil was growing on the edge of the wood and maybe wild or may be not.

The wild daffodils I have seen in Gloucestershire and Wales have paler outer petals, so the uniform yellowness of this flower made it seem more like a hybrid of some description. Wild or not, the most remarkable thing about the flower was the myriad of tiny shiny black beetles all over it. I have never noticed them in my life, but Meligethes aeneus or pollen beetle is a common beetle in gardens and farmland apparently. They love yellow flowers and clothes and yellow tennis balls. They eat pollen and can be a problem on rape seed crops, but are no cause for alarm in a garden. They were as beautiful and remarkable as the flower that they were feeding on.

This morning I braved the garden centre and was cheered by the plants and depressed by the row upon row of chemicals on sale to kill “weeds” moss, insects, moles in our gardens.

The link between Parkinson’s Disease and farmers and gardeners who have been in close contact with glyphosate /paraquat such as Roundup herbicide is becoming stronger and stronger and legal cases are being amassed against the manufacturers of such chemicals. We have to find beauty in all aspects of nature and crucially to find a balance between our need for bountiful crops and our need for good human health and a healthy ecosystem . Not drenching our own backyards and gardens with perniciously noxious chemicals would seem the obvious place to start!

We have to find space for the daffodil and the bug!

On Mars.

Today was warm and the cones on the pine trees started to crack open, slow releasing their tough seeds onto the ground.

Green woodpeckers yaffled, spotted woodpeckers drummed and the greenfinches sneered their wonderfully adolescent long single whine from the branches.

Butterflies woke up . There were brimstones, comma, red admirals and small tortoiseshells, bright against the brown mud in my garden as they shook colour back into the world.

In doors I sat at the kitchen table and watched the images from Mars on a laptop.

The rover descending and filming the surface as it came closer and closer, I saw the ridges and the red craters, the tantalising aquamarine shapes and then the sand of the very surface blown by the rover landing, engulfed it all.

I listened to the sound of Mars.

A wind blew between the clicks and bleeps of the machine that had travelled so far to hear it. In my kitchen, as the pine cones split open, I heard the wind on planet Mars and existence was astounding again and again.

February: Black bird Singing

I was listening to a program about the importance of the written word: the really written word, made by a human being pushing a pencil along a sheet of paper . I was inspired to share a poem I wrote this morning after listening to bird song from the garden through an open window.

The physical words have an added significance for me, as they are increasingly hard to make. I have Multiple Sclerosis and hand writing can be almost impossible for me some days, likewise typing . Voice dictation does not allow for poetry . The whole point of the unexpected word perplexes the machine and it will change and change it again until it has made dull prose out of something that I wanted to catch the light unexpectedly, like the song of the blackbird.

I hope my writing is good enough for you to read is all senses of the word!

Belted Beauty

In January there really is little to see except cold, hungry birds and so I return to my records of the moths that I have seen during the better part of the year.

One of my strangest photographs was of a very distinctive black and white moth which I could not identify from my moth books.

I had sent the record in to the LPO as an an unidentified specimen knowing that the moth recorder checks such a unnamed moths in the depths of the winter and may well provide an identification for me.

When the days were suitably dark and moths were suitably absent, a positive ID came back: it was a wonderful rare Lycia zonaria the Belted Beauty !

These moth are extinct in mainland Britain. The last records were from the sand dunes of costal Cheshire, but golf courses and the heavy tramp of healthy walkers have done for them and they are now only found in Orkney. The females are flightless home bodies, who cannot stray far from the right sandy grassland and they are not plentiful anywhere .

We live about as far from the sea as you can get in Europe and our ground is not at all sandy, but somewhere a female belted beauty must have found the right spot to hatch and to send out her perfume on the night air to this lucky male. His feathery antenna are designed to detect her subtle sent and I very much hope that they guided him safely to his mate the next night. I like to think that some new Belted Beauties were made last March and that that they just might return this spring to tantalise and gladden the heart with their very rare beauty.

Thaw.

I slept late this morning. I hate waking up when it’s still dark and today I took the luxury of sleeping the darkness away.

There’s been heavy snow here, pretty but crushing , it has bowed down the bushes, cracked open the rosemary and flattened the wallflowers that were waiting gamely through the winter for the spring.

However, while I

slept a wonderful warm wind rattled the house, bangle the shutters, whistled through the door jambs and gave me vivid spring dreams full of light. The thick snow slid from the roofs and crashing roars of noise that would normally have me jumping with fear, were intertwined with my dreams to produce formless exhilarating sensations .

I went to sleep in the winter and woke in spring time.

In the garden the sky was huge and racing blue and white. Everything smelt of growth and possibility. The cats were afraid of the scurrying leaves and the howling trees, but I just filled my lungs with the warm air and rejoiced.

Scribbling life

A lichen is colonizing my step.

The autumn had been wet and by winter the concrete had decided it was time to show some life while everything else died down.

The garden is just hanging by a thread between snow falls and bone cracking hard frosts, but the lichen sensed that this was just the time to colonize and to spread out.

It might be the shape of a beating heart, or it might be just the shape of a lichen. The smallest satellites look like tentative kisses on a mirror .

The concrete has never looked more lovely or full of possibility under a snow filled sky.

Year ending

The limbo time between Christmas and New Year feels very like the whole year has felt. Waiting to start again, but still enjoying the quiet and expanded sense of time between the tinsel and the fireworks of hope: safe and separate and too much time to listen to the unexpected silence.

In the quiet there are always the barrel rolling ravens and a flurry of bright goldfinches hanging on to the long birch in the wind.

In an unploughed field a single chaffinch does what gave her her name and pecks amongst the stalks for spilt grain.

A mole has pushed up a soft hill on the edge of the field and there is a definite line across its peak as if a playful walker has drawn a walking stick across it . I bend down to examine the mud and realise that the track has in fact been made by the passage of tiny vole feet. There is a vole hole between the mole hill and the field edge . The vole, like the chaffinch has been gleaning the spilt grains of corn and pulling them into his burrow to feed on them in muddy safety.

The year is coming to an end and we stay warm and fed underground with the moles and the voles . Spring will come, but winter has its own quiet virtues too.

Rash promises in Covid year.

I promised to tell you how my attempt to grow my own loofas went.

I bought the seed last winter when cutting down on plastic seemed the most important thing in the world. Well, the seeds germinated well and

the seedlings grew. I identified a good place against a wire fence to plant them out and watered them in. Then it turned wet and the cats were both sick and the slugs came out and ate the plants down to the ground when I wasn’t looking!

End of story.

What is astonishing about this little tale is that a whole year has gone by since I bought the seeds and the whole world has grown so strange since then.

I feel as if I haven’t been out of the garden or house since then. Time has folded in on itself so much since then that I am not sure I ever planted the loofa seedlings at all, or what I was hoping to achieve by growing them.

I have spent an inordinate amount of time this covid year staring at my two cats Winston and Pixie and marveling at their markings. They are brother and sister who were living in a neighbor’s greenhouse as kittens. We took them in and have always been fascinated by how many wild cat genes they might carry.

There are wild cats here in the edge of the Jura and I have seen cats on the edge of the forest with the tell tale fat banded tail and the black Pom Pom on the end.

Pixie and her huge tail.

Pixie has the classic wildcat tail, when she is being really agressive or scared, it quadruples in size and my little affectionate Pixie becomes a fluffy monster. Her larger brother Winston has some of the wildcat markings, but no where near as many as his sister, he has sleek velvety fur and classic tabby cat stripes. They both have wildcat cat ear tufts.

Winston with his tabby stripes.

This useful illustration of the markings on a cats back is the best I have found for telling a tabby from a real wild cat.

It could be Pixie A (wild cat) and Winston B, ( tabby cat ) but as they are sister and brother I think all that it proves is that cats, just like humans are a bit of everything and wonderfully mixed up like us all!

Notice the markings on the head and the spine. She has 5 bands on her tail and a black line across her shoulders. Wild cat!

Monochrome.

Nothing is ever monochrome.

Being alive is all the colours in between and simplification is so often trivialization, however fervently we may yearn for the comforting separation of thought and experience .

The hunters have been shooting the wild boar in the forest with what sounds like elephant guns. The hunters wave to us as they pass us in their vehicles because they see us in the woods so often. We wave back, pleased to see that they are wearing masks, appropriately socially distanced as they drive off to kill.

When we head for home there are two pigs hanging on hooks behind the lodge, waiting to be butchered . Their feet dangling in the air are so tiny, so elegant it seems improbable that they could have ever have carried such muscular weight .

The next day we see ravens when we walk to the woods and then more and then more. Ravens are always in pairs and they talk to one another raucously when the winter comes. I think of bickering and companionable married couples as they roll overhead in a sky that is ready to snow.

There are so many ravens and they are so close to us and so loud, that we realize there must be meat near by to make them so excited .

Of course there is: the hunters’ lodge is very close and the entrails of the butchered boar must have gone somewhere.

The ravens were uproarious with delight . The couples were contented and after feasting, they descended into the stubble to clean their gory great black beaks in the clean winter field.

The raven is in the bottom left hand side.

Lead days

Some days are cold

The sparrows won’t feed

The smoke lies in flat Sunday lines

Then there is good news :

a friend will be vaccinated in two weeks time.

It can stay grey, the sparrows can hide in the leaves for just a little longer

The sun will return!

Retirement squirrel

Today is effectively the first day of my retirement and I celebrated it by making this cut out squirrel from the back page of the LPO ( the French Bird and wildlife protection organisation) magazine.

It is silly, flimsy, unplanned and potentially metaphorical . Outside is a hard frost and bright sunshine in a cold blue sky.

The squirrel is profoundly impressed!

Bird bath just after I poured boiling water in. You can just see the steam!

Disposable masks can be reused 10 times says French group

I have been keeping a close eye on the research about the usefulness of face masks to protect us from Covid infection. Unfortunately the cloth masks we have made, are not very effective at filtering out the virus . Disposable masks with pinch-able nose bridges are much better, but it seems terrible to use something once and then throw it away and it goes against all my green principles!

By mistake I have often machine washed a disposable mask that has been left in the pocket of clothes. I have been surprised by how the process has not harmed it all and how fresh and intact it was after a long wash. I was delighted therefore to read that studies have shown that a disposable mask can be machine washed, tumble dried and even ironed 10 times before its filtration of covid virus is impaired.

This is really good news to keep more of us safer and doing less harm to the environment while we wait for the vaccine to restore normal ( what ever that is! ) life!!

Disposable masks can be reused 10 times says French group
— Read on www.connexionfrance.com/French-news/Disposable-masks-can-be-reused-and-washed-up-to-10-times-says-French-group-UFC-Que-Choisir

Today sounds of robins and catastrophe.

Today sounds of robins, their rich round burble of music rolls from the hedge and is answered in kind by their mate hidden in the tall tree . Robin song always sounds like Britain and is a relaxing link with home. Here in France they are much rarer in gardens and I can go a whole year without seeing one in the garden. They remind me of my garden in Wales, which was a damp suburban slice in the shade of a magnificent oak tree.

We loved the tree as soon as we saw it and owning the tree was as exciting as owning the little bungalow that sheltered under its bows .

The oak was pollarded periodically and then we left it to go and see the world and the bungalow and guardian oak was rented out to a long succession of tenants.

At the very end of this summer, when the tree was thick with green leaves there was a huge storm and the wonderful tree was uprooted. It walked like an ent from Tolkein across the lawn and it threw itself onto the little bungalow and crushed it utterly .

The house in boarded up now and there is a temporary roof on. It will be rebuilt, we had insurance, the tenant is OK and rehoused, but the oak is gone forever. It was all very shocking.

When the tree was still lying across the house it appeared as if the foliage had simply finally engulfed the upstart house, but when it was sawn up and hauled away by a crane, the full extent of the devastation was apparent.

This was the house we (and the bank) bought when we were first married and we always considered that it was the home we could return to when our wandering was over.

Brexit, Covid and a huge storm has made even knowing where home is anymore , more more difficult .

So when I hear the robins sing I think of our lost oak tree and hope it set plenty of acorns in the hedge for when and if, we ever go home.

No

November in the northern hemisphere is well known for its lack of light and hope.

The last remnants of autumn flowers are defeated by rain and wind and the firework of turning leaves are swirled into the mud.

But robins still sing round bubbles of song and siskins jangle their pocketfuls of keys over the grey sky.

A skein of cormorants is waylaid by the low fog, but still pushes on through and from a wet apple tree, a dozen red kites lift off at midday to catch the upward air.

Their wings are sharp against the gloom and their sissor tails cut out a wedge of grey sky as they wheel slowly, magnificently upwards .

November
by
Thomas Hood

No sun — no moon!
No morn — no noon —
No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! —
November!

Good news!

This little garden spider came in on a colis plant that will be livening up my window sill this winter. I think that spider webs are lucky and if she avoids my cats, she might just make it to the spring with the rest of us.

The following link will take you to a really good news story about the rediscovery of the wolf spider that was thought extinct in the UK for years. It is also inspiring to see what dedicated amateur naturalists can discover by perseverance.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/31/huge-spider-assumed-extinct-in-britain-discovered-on-mod-site-aoe

Good luck Wolfy!

Fly away home …

This afternoon

when the sun came out , the air was improbable with ladybirds. Everywhere I looked there were ladybirds landing fatly on the walls of the house, on the chairs, on my trousers. Before I can get close they disappeared slipping and into cracks , easing their fat ways in between the door frame and the door – all looking for somewhere to spend the winter where they will be warm and safe.

I will find them all winter long and in the spring they will emerge from the safe cracks and if they’re lucky will be liberated to start the spring. If they’re unlucky they die of exhaustion and get swept up in the winter.

Out in the countryside the farmers are harvesting the maize and the noise is tremendous. Fuming about man-made disruption, I walked into the forest and acorns rained down all around me from the oak trees. It sounded like hail and I was glad of my hat as they pinged around me and clattered down heavily from the branches overhead.

In the countryside the farmers were harvesting maize with a roar of machinery that sent me into the forest in search of peace. Acorns were raining down as loud as hail: ricocheting off branches and trunks and I was grateful for my bike hat as the acorns whizzed passed my ears.

When I was out of the woods there was a new noise as a great flock of migrating pigeons made a cloud of sound over my head. Their wings pushed stockily against the breaking clouds and I could hear the very rattle of their feathers .

They are off to find a place to feed and fatten away from the coming winter , just like the ladybirds.

I took my cue and turned home to light the fire in the stove which always makes me feel as safe and as snug as a bug in a rug!

Ladybird ladybird fly away home ….

The tendril goes on …

Just thought I would show you how far the grape vine has grown across my front door, as there is no new reason to cut it back.

( Sliding on By ) https://cathysrealcountrygardencom.wordpress.com/2020/09/17/sliding-on-by/

Covid is still keeping guests away and me inside, but I can still step over it and go into the garden.

The delivery man is amused by it, the cats are bemused by it and it just keeps on growing.

If it is a metaphor for the insidious growth of the virus, then when winter eventually kills it, we will all be set free . If it is a metaphor for the resilience of nature, then I shall leave it to grow. If it is a metaphor for my sloth then I should hack it back.

As planning for the future seems impossible these days, I shall live the metaphor and do absolutely nothing at all and just wait and see what the tendril does next.

Books read in September and August

I read “The Map of Knowledge” by Violet Moller and it blew me away, as the Americans say.

I was blown away because I was conscious yet again of how stunningly little I know and how much there is to know and how little time there is in a puny human life.

Moller encapsulates all of the lost ancient knowledge through the cities that valued it and protected it after the destruction of the Greek world. She follows Gallen, Euclid and Ptolemy texts as they escape the flames of the library of Alexandria , the Mongol destruction of the Abbasids culture and the Christian attempts to bury ancient learning in Western Europe.

Reading this wonderful book inspired me to watch the film “Agora”about the female philosopher and mathematician Hypatia who never stopped working on the true circulation of the planets even as bigotry and fundamentalism closed in on her and finally killed her as the Hellenic world took to Christianity.

I then read “The Swerve” by Stephen Greenblatt by which is a wonderful exploration of the survival of a single pre Christian book, which was neither about medicine nor mathematics. To my great shame I had never even heard of the original text which is “The Nature of Things “ ( De Rerum Natura) by Lucretius , but I had heard at least of the philosopher who inspired it: Epicurus.

“The Swerve” is an account of how a 15th century scholar called Poggio trawled through the libraries of European monasteries deliberately looking for forgotten ancient books. He struck gold when he discovered a copy of “The Nature of Things.” This poem written in about 50 BC explains that all life is made of atoms, that the Gods, if they exist at all, have not the slightest interest in humanity; that there is no reward in the afterlife and that our bodily atoms just return to be reused in the cycle of life.

This does not seem so remarkable an idea now to many people, but for more than two thousand years these ideas were incendiary and the survival of the book at all is extraordinary. Goldblatt shows how the discovery of this lost book made possible the rebirth of scholarship that is known as the Renaissance and how this laid the foundation for our modern world.

Of course I had to try reading “The Nature of Things “ for myself. It is written in wonderfully sinuous poetry and this was so unexpectedly beautiful that I almost could not take it seriously. When the poetry gives way to denser science I find myself giving up and returning to “Just William” but between these two poles of experience I will keep reading, stay sane and use that breathless perspective of learning and history to weather the coming winter .

Happy Reading!

Sliding on by.

This grape vine tendril has grown right across my front door step. This is vegetable testimony to how few people have stepped across the threshold and how rarely I have been out this way.

When the vine started budding it was early spring and we sat drinking tea in the sunshine, enjoying the lockdown and the luxury of working from home and watching the garden come to life for once. The bat came back to roost in the eves as summer started and the grapes began to set.

Now it is autumn : Being home is still a pleasure and the garden is still amazing but venturing beyond the garden still seems foolish . Covid has not gone away and so the grapes have fattened unadmired by guests and visitors.

I wish there was a reason to trim the wayward frond , I wish the vine shoot was in anybody’s way: but it isnt, so it curls indolently over the door mat.

I wonder if the door will be completely overgrown by the time a vaccine liberates us all back into normal life, or if I will have simply learnt to make my own wine and there will be no reason to ever go out again!

Second spring.

In the autumn the swing of light is the same as in the spring,

and in the forest dog violets bloom again.

In my garden the Mock Orange puts out a few perfumed flowers and the rain has coaxed another push of sunshine yellow mulleins from the almost ossified Summer stem.

The Earth is turning, light is fading from this season,

but it can feel the same as the light growing in the spring,

If you want it to,

If you try hard enough

But there are swallows massing on the wires

Socially distancing swallows, but swallows none the less,

And all my wishing will not keep them a moment longer

Stretching out their improbable Pterodactyl wings to preen the summer dust away

Before swinging back on the turning world that never stops,

However much we want it to.

Swallow.

I took the curtains down
They have hung unwashed against the glass for too long.
The window was bigger,
filled from frame to frame with sunshine and a perfect blue sky
And then the sky erupted:
Swallows and martins exploded,
flung exuberance , flight and life,
Careering, tumbling , screaming,
A great cloud of birds in all of the sky giving depth to the flat perfection of the blue day : calling calling calling.
I could not hear them behind the glass but I know the sound
The screaming chattering essence of flight, of movement , of freedom –
Oh swallow, swallow!

Honesty .

The Jasmine has deigned to flower this summer.
Last year there were leaves and no flowers : this year the perfume of the white flowers is intoxicating. It is scrambling up the drainpipe next to where the honesty has flowered  and while I peeled off the dull brown cases of the honesty seed heads, I am bathed in the heady perfume of the flowers.
 Peeling the skins from the honesty seedheads is a peaceful task that never ceases to give me pleasure.
The plants have stayed green all winter, clinging on between the paving stones and often dusted in snow . With the first stirrings of spring , their dark green intensifies and strong spikes of little purple flowers race up in the first hint of warmth.  The early honey bees and the long tongued bee flies pollinate them hungrily and their tiny feasting is often the first sound of insect life returning to a cold garden.
When the flowers are pollinated the flat oval seed head start to form. As the spring races into summer the ovals grow and the green cases starts to turn brown.
By the end of July the real heat of summer descends upon the garden and we retreat in to the shade. The last honesty leaves are long shrivelled and gone and the old plants look dry and ugly. But the seeds continue to ripen between the dark papery cases, while we lie in hammocks and the cats sleep the heat away under the hedge.
When the cases are totally dry and the honesty looks at its very worst , I peel back the first case.
Between the brown pages of the cases is a sheet of silver, perfectly shell luminescent with two flat brown seeds still briefly attached until they fall to the ground leaving  the central portion white and bright , clean and lovely.
My fingers are greedy to peel away the cases and to real the wonderful silver moon of the inside. Such a satisfying transformation of dark, dullness into white light! I rub away all the cases and reveal the beauty inside that has been slowly forming all year.

My mother taught me to peel back the cases when I was little in our garden near Liverpool. I was enchanted then and am enchanted still. I want the honesty to grow everywhere in the garden, but it will only flourish in the cracks between the paving stones that it finds for its self.

It will not grow where I plant it , it will only grow where the wind and the broom push the seeds and the warmth from the wall is enough to sustain it through a cold winter.
My ugly duckling plant has a mind of its own and will find the perfect spot to grow and twist all my metaphors into a slice of moonlight of its own as the thunder storm washes the last seeds into their perfect spot for next spring.
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A solid home…

 

While looking for shade on a sunny day, my eye was caught by a strange clay pot opening on the underside of the kitchen window. It wasnt there before. Made of perfect solid clay with a delicate circular mouth, the colour exactly the same as the painted wall .

I waited. Nothing happened. It was hot and very Adlestrop.

The next day the pot has changed shape some how and then there was a huge, elegantly waisted wasp at the mouth of the pot. The wasp carried a ball of mud and as I watched it carefully rolled it into the opening and sealed up the whole.

The wasp returned with damp clay and delicately plastered, layer, by thin layer of mud over the pot until eventually the pot had been subsumed into an unnoticeable bump innocuous under the window ledge.

 

A guide book helped me identify the workman as a potter wasp Delta unguiculatum……..”…

The pot is home for its single egg which is suspended from a thread inside the pot. The wasp provisions its young with a caterpillar, which the adult has paralysed with poison. The caterpillar is fed into the mouth of the pot to stay fresh until the egg hatches and the the grub falls from its thread onto the caterpillar, which it then devours. When the grub reaches maturity, the new wasp breaks out of its pottery nursery and feeds on nectar from flowers outside.

The shape of the nest has been said to inspire humans to make their first clay pots.

We have used pots to store grain and seeds for millennia. The wasp worked it out first and used them to store food for its young and to house them as they grew.

It may seem as if nothing is happening on a hot day, but all of life and human history is carefully building, mud mouthful by mud mouthful under the kitchen window.

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A Delicate home.

I was deadheading purple toadflax flowers to encourage them to keep flowering all summer. Their long thin, needle like flowers spike up through the ripening garden for months and I was keen to stop them setting seed too soon. As I carried back some snapped seed stems , I noticed a bracelet of purple petals that was definitely not a flower.

On closer inspection I realised that it was a delicate dome of spiders web and fallen petals fused to the stem. On turning over the stem, I saw a very small white and black spider hiding in the middle of the dome. The spider was waiting under its improbable sombrero of petals for some unsuspecting ant or ladybird to devour .The camouflage  of petals was the soft home of a killer with a delicate and dainty sense of home decor!

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Swamped!

This time of year I can feel a bit like my duck who is being slowly engulfed by an ants’ nest . They found a dry spot under her metal belly and have multiplied until her eyes will soon be filled with earth and perfect ant eggs.

No, I haven’t finally lost it!

There is just such a wonderful profusion of fruit to pick and there is no time to do it. The sun is either so roastingly hot that picking boils the brains, or the heavens have opened and I am in danger of a biblical thunder bolt and electrocution over the raspberries.

It is a pleasant problem to have, but I hate waste and all those red currents, black currants, gooseberries, cherries and raspberries won’t pick themselves, so I put down the ipad and rush back out to the garden.

I might even find time to rescue the duck!

 

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Stoning Cherries.

 Stoning cherries.
10 years ago we planted a cherry tree
Thin stick on an unpromising slope
For the blossom, for the fruit, if it ever came.
Each year the stick thickened
The trunk glossy and banded with fine bracelets of silver,
Yielding just a few small cherries.
This year it is finally heavy with fruit
Little globes, still sour , that explode in the mouth.
I stand by the sink, watch the flies on the pane
And push the stones out of each fruit.
The juice runs through my fingers,
The punctured flesh sticks under my  thumb nail.
My hands are clumsy,
but they slowly find the stone
in every fruit,
The stones are discarded in the sticky sink and,
Left behind  is a heaped bowl of broken cherry flesh,
jewel red and succulent.
Worth the wait.
Cathy Cooper 2020
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Before the rain.

Before the rain the peonies  were perfect.

Before the deluge the roses were pristine,

The lawn was trim and the slugs asleep,

But after the storm, in the snail slimed, dripping quiet,

The perfume was divine.

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Complicated beauty.

3656AFC1-5DD2-4761-8AD5-6E417FE3B910Capturing complex beauty is so difficult and I have the greatest  respect for those who take  wonderful photos with such apparent ease.

My garden is crammed with columbines at this time of year all of which have come from seeds collected in the woods locally. They cross and cross with one another and the variety they produce is mesmeric. Every May I try to capture them, but I am never satisfied by the result, as they hide in their five petaled whorls and I cannot begin to show the diversity of their colour and petals.

Some are pale, almost white and they stand out in the dawn light. Others are baby pink and innocent; next are the deep, sophisticated , rose-red flowers. Seemingly unconnected in gradation are the purple columbines: a rare few seem actually blue and are the smallest and most shyly flowered; then there are the work -a -day mid purples with the longest spurs;  followed by purples rich enough for an emperor’s robe and finally, the most exotic of all: the midnight purples, so dark that they seem to absorb the very sun light around them .

Some flowers have just a single whorl of five petals: each petal contains a nectary to encourage the bees to visit and to pollenate .  The nectaries are curled over and this has given the flowers their name, as they look like five doves or columbs facing one another in a delicate ring. They have also given columbines the folk names of “ladies in bonnets”and “old ladies” from when women kept warm and modest in complicated lace caps.

Bumbles bees cannot be bothered extending their long tongues into the spurs and they simply bite into the neck of the ”dove” and steal the nectar provided by the flower. Some plants are not satisfied  with just one ring of petal doves and produce natural “sports” of flowers which are crammed with petals, so they look like pom-poms or little floribunda roses.

This variety is absolutely glorious.

I understand Gregor Mendel started our understanding of genetics by studying the way peas crossed with one another . I am glad he studied  such a visually dull flower, as I think he would never have gained such important insight, if he had studied columbines – their beauty is just too distracting!

 

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The bee-loud glade.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
n/a
Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats

 

It rained heavily here after weeks and weeks of  bright sunshine and the bees were driven in under the shelter of the dripping patio. Luckily there were enough tangled wall flowers half in the  rain and half under the cover to provide them with nectar and pollen away from the falling rain. Listening to the bees I thought of Yeats lovely line of poetry and of all the wonderful sounds of the “deep heart’s core”.

 

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May Day in lockdown.

The leaves have come dark and green, green, green filling in the gap where the wind blew.

The longed for rain fills the flowers and bends the petals down to the grass.

A chaffinch sings the single note of its rain song  green, green, green, time, time, time rolls in the cool, wet garden.

Beyond is the daily Sunday quiet and the leaves fill in each gap while the air lies still and heavy.

 

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